Inside Information

Kevin Lewis

January 16, 2010

Performing on Cue? The Formation of Public Opinion Toward War

Christopher Gelpi
Journal of Conflict Resolution, February 2010, Pages 88-116

The public's inability to gain direct personal experience or information about American military operations means that individuals must rely on cues to form opinions about war. But in an environment filled with potential cues, which ones do Americans tend to rely on when deciding whether to support an ongoing military operation? This experimental study uses two distinct cues within the context of a newspaper story about the Iraq War to test four theoretical models of the American public's reliance on cues. The results provide fairly consistent support for the "surprising events" model of opinion formation, which suggests that individuals will attend to news events that conflict with their expectations in an effort to update their attitudes toward the war. These results also provide support for the cost/benefit perspective on the formation of public opinion toward war that underpins much of the literature on casualty tolerance during military conflicts.


Government public relations during Herbert Hoover's presidency

Mordecai Lee
Public Relations Review, forthcoming

While historians generally credit President Franklin Roosevelt with the establishment of robust public information activities in the federal government, this case study reviews those activities during the administration of Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover. During Hoover's term, agency PR was conducted extensively and openly enough to trigger media and partisan attacks. This suggests that public relations emerged gradually in federal departments and agencies during the 20th century, well before FDR's inauguration in 1933, and was already a natural element of the emerging profession of public administration.


Organizing growth

Luis Garicano & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg
Journal of Economic Theory, forthcoming

We propose a framework to study the impact of information and communication technology on growth through its impact on organization and innovation. Agents accumulate knowledge to use available technologies and invent new ones. The use of a technology requires the development of organizations to coordinate the work of experts, which takes time. We find that while advances in information technology always increase growth, improvements in communication technology may lead to lower growth and even to stagnation, since the payoff to exploiting available technologies through organizations increases relative to the payoff from developing new innovations.


An evolutionary edge of knowing less (or: On the ‘curse' of global information)

Oded Stark & Doris Behrens
Journal of Evolutionary Economics, January 2010, Pages 77-94

Consider a population of farmers who live around a lake. Each farmer engages in trade with his two adjacent neighbors. The trade is governed by a prisoner's dilemma ‘rule of engagement.' A farmer's payoff is the sum of the payoffs from the two prisoner's dilemma games played with his two neighbors. When a farmer dies, his son takes over. The son decides whether to cooperate or defect by considering the actions taken and the payoffs received by the most prosperous members of the group comprising his own father and a set of his father's neighbors. The size of this set, which can vary, is termed the ‘span of information.' It is shown that a larger span of information can be detrimental to the stable coexistence of cooperation and defection, and that in well-defined circumstances, a large span of information leads to an end of cooperation, whereas a small span does not. Conditions are outlined under which, when individuals' optimization is based on the assessment of less information, the social outcome is better than when optimization is based on an assessment of, and a corresponding response to, more information.


Face Value

Catherine Eckel & Ragan Petrie
American Economic Review, forthcoming

People pay attention to the appearance of others, and personal characteristics can affect decisions about friendships, employment, and other transactions. We ask, is there informational value in a face in a situation where trust and reciprocity can increase earnings? We use a laboratory experiment where subjects in a trust game a) are unable to observe a counterpart, b) must observe a counterpart, or c) are given the opportunity to pay to reveal a counterpart's photograph. We show that behavior, earnings and efficiency are affected by seeing a counterpart's photo and that both senders and receivers are willing to pay to observe the photos. Senders have a strategic interest in purchasing a photo, particularly if there is any chance that the receivers have purchased photos.


Bringing Meaning to Numbers: The Impact of Evaluative Categories on Decisions

Ellen Peters, Nathan Dieckmann, Daniel Västfjäll, C. Mertz, Paul Slovic & Judith Hibbard
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, September 2009, Pages 213-227

Decision makers are often quite poor at using numeric information in decisions. The results of 4 experiments demonstrate that a manipulation of evaluative meaning (i.e., the extent to which an attribute can be mapped onto a good/bad scale; this manipulation is accomplished through the addition of visual boundary lines and evaluative labels to a graphical format) has a robust influence in health judgments and choices and across diverse adult populations. The manipulation resulted in greater use of numeric quality-of-care information in judgments and less reliance on an irrelevant affective state among the less numerate. Recall results for provided quality-of-care numbers suggested that the manipulation did not influence depth of number processing with the exception of cost information that was not remembered as well. Results of a reaction-time paradigm revealed that feelings were more accessible than thoughts in the presence of the manipulation, suggesting that the effect may be due, at least in part, to an affective mechanism. Numeric information is often provided in decisions, but may not be usable by consumers without assistance from information providers. Implications for consumer decision making and the functions of affect are discussed.


Knowledge Market Design: A Field Experiment at Google Answers

Yan Chen, Teck-Hua Ho & Yong-Mi Kim
Journal of Public Economic Theory, forthcoming

In a field experiment at Google Answers, we investigate the performance of price-based online knowledge markets by systematically manipulating prices. Specifically, we study the effects of price, tip, and a reputation system on both an answerer's effort and answer quality by posting real reference questions from the Internet Public Library on Google Answers under different pricing schemes. We find that a higher price leads to a significantly longer, but not better, answer, while an answerer with a higher reputation provides significantly better answers. Our results highlight the limitation of monetary incentives and the importance of reputation systems in knowledge market design.


When experience is better than description: Time delays and complexity

Tomás Lejarraga
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, January 2010, Pages 100-116

The dominant sampling paradigm of experience-based choice is extended by exploring two realistic aspects of decisions. First, frequency judgments were studied in situations involving a delay between information acquisition and judgment. This time gap undermines recall from working memory and favors the natural human capacity to encode frequencies effortlessly. Deferred judgments from experience were found to be more accurate than judgments from description, both for absolute and rank-order judgments. Second, task complexity was varied. This showed that - as decision tasks become more complex - participants are willing to trade-off detailed but complex descriptive information for less accurate but simpler information sampled from experience. Moreover, there were no individual differences due to numerical/rational abilities. Results from the two studies suggest that information obtained from experience can be more valuable than descriptive information in that it can both lead to better frequency judgments in deferred tasks and simplify cognitive representations of complex choice tasks.


Exposure to foreign media and changes in cultural traits: Evidence from naming patterns in France

Anne-Célia Disdier, Keith Head & Thierry Mayer
Journal of International Economics, forthcoming

Free trade in audio-visual services has faced opposition on the grounds that foreign media undermine domestic culture, and ultimately, global diversity. Using a long panel of French birth registries, we assess the media-culture link using name frequencies as a measure of tastes. Controlling for the number of people who currently have a name and unobserved name effects, our regressions show that media influences choices via selective imitation. Parents are much more likely to adopt media names that they associate with youth. Using estimated parameters, we simulate our model of name choice to reveal that, absent foreign media, fewer than 5% of French babies would have been named differently. Our simulations also suggest a positive effect of foreign media on the welfare of parents.


What Makes for a Critical Press? A Case Study of French and U.S. Immigration News Coverage

Rodney Benson
International Journal of Press/Politics, January 2010, Pages 3-24

This article measures and explains criticism in U.S. and French national newspapers during the 1990s and 2000s. Criticism is operationalized in terms of discrete critical statements directed at governmental, political party, business, civil society, and foreign/ international organizations or officials; such critical statements, which take various forms-administrative, character, truth, ideology, policy, and strategy-offer a more comprehensive measure of criticism on a day-to-day basis than the occasional in-depth investigative report.While state intervention is often argued to have a censoring effect, this study finds that the more "statist" French press presents a greater density of criticisms than the U.S. press. French newspapers that receive the highest direct subsidies are not less critical of the government or dominant party than other French (or U.S.) newspapers. French newspapers exhibit a slightly higher degree of political parallelism, but in both countries newspapers tend to aim the greatest amount of criticism toward the party in power, whether Left or Right. Relatively higher French criticism is also facilitated by a distinctive French journalistic cultural form, the "debate ensemble," that, in contrast to U.S. "dramatic narrative," organizes the news as a clash of critical opposing viewpoints.


Text Skimming: The Process and Effectiveness of Foraging Through Text Under Time Pressure

Geoffrey Duggan & Stephen Payne
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, September 2009, Pages 228-242

Is Skim reading effective? How do readers allocate their attention selectively? The authors report 3 experiments that use expository texts and allow readers only enough time to read half of each document. Experiment 1 found that, relative to reading half the text, skimming improved memory for important ideas from a text but did not improve memory of less important details or of inferences made from information within the text. Experiment 2 found no advantage of skimming over reading the first or second half of every paragraph. Two final experiments using a hierarchical, Website-like layout of documents showed that the advantage of skimming found in Experiment 1 was dependent on the linkages between pages and, thus, the ease with which participants could navigate through the text. Data on page-by-page reading times and eye-tracking analyses from Experiment 2 indicated that Skim readers spent more time reading text that was earlier in the paragraph, toward the top of the page and in an earlier page of the document. These findings were interpreted as evidence in support of a "satisficing" account of skimming process.


On the Portability of Computer-Generated Presentations: The Effect of Text-Background Color Combinations on Text Legibility

Massimo Greco, Natale Stucchi, Daniele Zavagno & Barbara Marino
Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, October 2008, Pages 821-833

Objective: The aim of our study was to investigate which text-background (TB) color combinations improve legibility and pleasantness of texts either presented on a computer screen or projected on a wider surface.

Background: Our work stems from the observation that multimedia presentations, even those by professionals in visual disciplines, are often spoiled by illegibility, which affects readability and the pleasantness of attending to such presentations.

Methods: We investigated this problem through three experiments. Experiment 1 assessed the best TB color combinations in slides presented on a laptop. Experiment 2 verified the correlation between legibility and pleasantness for TB presentations. Experiment 3 investigated the legibility of a slide projected on a wide screen in different room lighting conditions. In all experiments participants expressed a rating score for stimulus legibility or pleasantness.

Results: Experiments 1 and 3 showed that it is best to have a dark text on a light background for both displayed and projected texts. Experiment 2 showed that pleasantness is tightly correlated with legibility, though legibility depends on contrast between text and background.

Conclusions: Our findings are not in complete agreement with the literature concerning legibility of text displayed on a computer screen, and they are in contrast with the common belief that for projection purposes it is best to have a light text on a dark background.

Applications: Some practical rules on combining TB colors are given to enhance the legibility of presentations, especially important for the legibility of projected texts.


Exploring the Association Between News Use and Social Capital: Evidence of Variance by Ethnicity and Medium

Christopher Beaudoin
Communication Research, October 2009, Pages 611-636

The current study assesses the association between news use and social capital - and whether this association varies by ethnicity and medium. Ordinary least square regression analysis indicates that social capital is predicted by newspaper exposure, but not TV national news exposure or TV local news exposure. In addition, there are two significant interaction terms between the news exposure measures and ethnicity in predicting social capital. First, the association between newspaper exposure and social capital is more positive for Whites than Latinos. Second, the association between TV national news exposure and social capital is less positive for Whites than Blacks. Of four potential contributory factors, the most viable factor is communication culture. Specifically, the relative oral and literate traditions of American ethnic groups are most suitable for explaining how the association between news use and social capital varies by ethnicity and medium.


Learning outside the laboratory: Ability and non-ability influences on acquiring political knowledge

David Hambrick, Elizabeth Meinz, Jeffrey Pink, Jonathan Pettibone & Frederick Oswald
Learning and Individual Differences, February 2010, Pages 40-45

The purpose of this study was to identify sources of individual differences in knowledge acquired under natural conditions. Through its direct influence on background knowledge, crystallized intelligence (Gc) had a major impact on political knowledge, acquired over a period of more than 2 months, but there were independent influences of personality and interest factors, via exposure to political information through activities like reading the newspaper. We also found sex differences in political knowledge, favoring males, and these differences could not be explained in terms of any of the predictor variables we modeled. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of the results.

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